It was Stephany Bruno’s first day at the Project O boot camp. But at her first workout session Bruno got frustrated.
“Right away, when I got there we started doing 10 pushups and then 10 jumping jacks,” Bruno said. “I was tired and in so much pain after five pushups, that I had to stop while everyone else kept on going.”
Bruno, 24, has dealt with depression and obesity since the age of 15. Born in Toronto, she had a rough upbringing. She said she was verbally abused by her mother and would arrive home from school to find her mother waiting for her.
“When I came in the house she started yelling in my face saying that I am no good and that I am useless,” Bruno said. “I would sit in my room for hours and cry.”
Over the course of her last year at Sir Robert L. Borden high school in Scarborough, in 2012, Bruno’s health deteriorated. Instead of going to class everyday in Grade 12, Bruno sat on her couch, watched TV and ate junk food. She soon noticed that she had gained weight and had lost her self-esteem.
“I weighed 400 pounds in my last year of high school, “ Bruno said. “I remember people in the halls at school looking at me and thinking I was pregnant. … I thought of committing suicide.”
Jesse Weeks is the founder of Project O boot camp and has led it since 2012. The Toronto police officer initiated the camp to help youth in Toronto get in shape and reach their weight-loss goals. Weeks remembered the first days, helping Bruno lose weight.
“She looked like she was going to struggle,” Weeks said. “I told her that I would help her lose weight as long as she put in the time and work.”
Eventually, Bruno moved in with her friend Wesley Ndukwe to get away from her mother’s abuse. Ndukwe, 24, is a part-time security guard and saw signs of Bruno’s depression when she moved in.
“She was ashamed of her weight and would hide in her bedroom for hours,” Ndukwe said. “Her youth worker had told her in a meeting about Project O and suggested she go.”
Every Thursday, Weeks trains with Bruno for two hours. They started the sessions by doing 10 burpees and 10 jumping jacks with one-minute breaks in between, then holding a medicine ball over their heads for 30 seconds. In the last hour, they ran suicides from one end of the gym to the other and would finish the sessions by doing 20 pushups and sit-ups. After a few months of struggling, Weeks started to see improvements.
“She … was able to do the cardio exercises without the extra motivation,” Weeks said. “She started to gain more confidence … and that’s when I knew that my job was done.”
Jack Goodman, a physiology professor at the University of Toronto St. George campus, said that having a personal trainer is beneficial to someone who is trying to lose weight.
“Having a personal trainer is helpful if properly trained and certified,” Goodman said. “This individual can guide a client towards safe physical activity, from walking to weightlifting and is often a very important source of motivation.”
Eventually, Bruno started seeing results on the weight scale and is now 207 pounds, down from her original 400.
To Ndukwe said he’s seen a transformation in Bruno’s physique and behaviour.
“She worked hard to lose that weight and now she is a completely different person,” Ndukwe said. “She’s no longer ashamed of her weight and is now able to go out with friends without people laughing at her.”
Meanwhile, Bruno has become a leader at Project O and maintains her weight with less struggle.
“Losing all the weight was a long bumpy road and for the first time in years I don’t feel ashamed of myself,” Bruno said.